PORT BYRON — First place in the Three Rivers West Division baseball race was on the line Tuesday afternoon, and Gage Hugart knew it.
Taking on Orion’s senior left-handed ace Quinn Hoftender, the senior Riverdale standout delivered a championship-worthy performance that put his club atop the conference standings.
Hugart delivered an all-around gem with two hits, getting 16 of 21 out via strikeouts as the Rams shut out the Chargers 4-0 to take the lead in TRAC West.
Now 4-0 in the conference, Riverdale (7-1) won six straight games ending an eight-game winning streak by Orion (12-4, 5-1 TRAC West).
“We were all excited for this game; it was one of the biggest games of the season for us,” said Hugart (3-1), who allowed just five runners on two singles, two bases on balls and an error. “We didn’t play too many games, but we worked hard in training and came out prepared.”
Hugart especially felt prepared for his duel with Hoftender (2-1), who also had a good Tuesday with a performance of 12 strikeouts.
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“I felt it today,” he said. “Everything was working pretty well. I felt nervous before the first pitch, but once I started I felt pretty good.”
Missing all-conference pitching honors last spring gave Hugart added incentive to make every start go like Tuesday’s effort.
“I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder from last year,” he said. “I felt like I was one of the best pitchers in the conference last year. I want to prove it this year.”
The Rams had early opportunities to break through against Hoftender, leaving runners locked in scoring position for the first two innings before Dawson Peterson’s RBI brace scored Kye Smeltzly with one out late in the third.
Smeltzly had reached an error, something that plagued the Chargers throughout Tuesday’s game as much as Hugart’s throw.
“You make mistakes, it’s going to be tough to win games,” said Orion coach Thomas Smith, whose club has been plagued with five errors. “Give (Hugart) credit, he pounded the strike zone, but you don’t give yourself a chance when you can’t get the ball in play.
“Quinn fought, and he gave us a chance to win.”
For his part, Peterson felt the way his teammate was performing, that a single point might be enough.
“Oh yeah, 100%. It was a great pitching duel,” said the second-year, who went 2-for-4. “We knew we had to strike first, and we did. “
The Rams got some extra insurance late in the fifth by scoring three times, the key hit being Jake Willems’ two-run single.
“I just stayed ready, and I knew I had to put the ball in play and get those points,” Willems said. “Obviously it wasn’t over yet, so we had to finish.”
Now in first place, Riverdale both anticipates Thursday’s rematch with the Chargers at Orion’s Love Park and further engages in a regular weekly rhythm of gaming action.
“We just have to find our rhythm in games,” Peterson said. “If we do that, we can be unstoppable.”